Keeping A Family Business Busy, Moving Into The Future While Preserving The Past

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Camillo Sirianni, a third-generation family business that began as a mechanized carpentry company in 1909, has overcome the isolation of its hometown to become a leading manufacturer of school furniture. Credit Gianni Cipriano for The New York Times

The EU, like all governance systems and especially relatively young ones, had its shortcomings; but it also had plenty of visionary good that we continue to admire:

Internet Throws Lifeline to Family Businesses in Small Town in Italy’s South

By

SOVERIA MANNELLI, Italy — Mario Caligiuri can still recall the night that may be credited with changing the fortunes of Soveria Mannelli.

It was New Year’s Eve at the turn of the millennium, and as mayor he dashed off an email to the authorities in Rome seeking an audience to explain his initiative to connect his struggling mountaintop town of about 3,000 inhabitants to the internet.

For generations Soveria Mannelli had been a lively outpost, situated strategically along the main road that ran from south of Naples to the toe of Italy. But after the government built a highway in the 1970s closer to the coast, traffic was diverted. Soveria Mannelli was left cut off.

Mr. Caligiuri, like many others here, had refused to leave “out of a sentiment of affection,” he said. He was determined to bridge the logistical hurdles of the town’s isolation.

“I had understood that new technologies created economic development, but that was that,” recalled Mr. Caligiuri, who is now a professor. “But it was only when the government summoned me to Rome that I knew I was doing something good.”

Mr. Caligiuri, 56, served five consecutive terms as mayor over 18 years. And Soveria Mannelli successfully harnessed the digital age to its longstanding work culture, reviving its family-run businesses and turning the town into a model of innovation for Italy’s underdeveloped south.

Soveria Mannelli now has a thriving, medium-size publishing house, a leading school furniture manufacturer and an ancient wool mill, all run by families that have been able to maintain their roots here by updating their businesses to accommodate the digital era.

The town’s combination of longstanding administrative stability, forward-looking mayors and a vibrant entrepreneurial spirit has made it a standout in the region.

“It’s a case study that clearly shows how a functional and stable administration can help businesses grow, and that a small community can nurture a real business culture, also in Italy’s south,” said Pier Luigi Sacco, a professor of cultural economics at IULM University in Milan.

At the same time, he noted, for such a small place, Soveria Mannelli has an unusual range and concentration of skills that make its success hard to replicate elsewhere.

“I fear it’d be hard to scale it up,” Professor Sacco added. “The polyphony of talents in such a tiny village would be unusual almost anywhere in the world.”

At the time Mr. Caligiuri wrote to Rome, 80 families in the village were already on the internet and 800 more were to receive personal computers financed through European Union regional funds…

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